As chants of “not my president” echo across the nation, millions gather around the globe to protest our new administration and hot pink yarn flies off the shelves of craft stores everywhere, Donald Trump is still the president of the United States. In the months since the election, and especially the two weeks after the inauguration, the entire planet has been reeling from the election of one of the most divisive leaders we have seen in the modern age, forced to come to terms with the reality that such a man has come to power. How can we attempt to process this dynamic shift, and where can we find the energy to keep us in the fight?
The James W. Palmer Gallery has provided one such answer in its new exhibition, “The World After January 20, 2017: Works by Contemporary Artists and Poets.” Come experience this multimedia exhibition, on view through Feb. 16, which features artists from a variety of backgrounds all searching to comprehend this strange new world, and through great pain find a sense of understanding.
The idea for such an exhibit came about through the collaboration of co-curators Associate Director of the Palmer Gallery Monica d. Church and Adjunct Associate Professor Judith Nichols, when they realized that they had a chance to create something extraordinarily current. Church explained how she introduced the idea to Professor Nichols: “I presented Judy, who I know as a poet and activist, with a loose idea that we may want to shift the focus of the exhibition we were working on to something more timely while I was at her home preparing tamales for a fundraiser for Artists for Soup. We felt that we might have an opportunity to organize an exhibition in reaction to the election, and have it take place within the first 100 days of the Trump presidency.”
Specifically addressing the original vision for the exhibition in its desire to be relevant and political, Church stated in an email, “The inspiration for the exhibition came about with the idea that ‘political and social upheavals can provide ripe environments for making art.’ We invited artists and poets to ‘consider sharing work that somehow addresses your sense of what this Presidential Inauguration might mean.’” In this way both the experience of creating the art, as well as observing the pieces as a viewer are rather cathartic experiences. In this tumultuous time, Hannah Nice ’18 [Disclaimer: Nice is the Assistant Social Media Editor at the Miscellany News] has come to value art more than ever, and talked about the thoughts she had while wandering through the exhibition: “The process of art making can be therapeutic, as it provides a way for artists to take action and translate internalized emotions into a tangible entity. On the other hand, art creates a platform for a community to be created; it acts as a physical manifestation of shared emotions. I find that this show beautifully highlights these aspects of art: the power that comes from both creating and displaying it.”
While clearly each artist in the exhibit views the election of Donald Trump (and his most recent policies) in a negative light, each work reflects a variety of reactions to his election, ranging from the darkly humorous to the quietly somber. Church expanded upon the selection process for the artists themselves: “We invited artists and poets whose works normally have political underpinnings. Thus, none of the participants were making political works for the first time. The artists/poets all responded positively to our invitation. They worked hard, over the holidays and with a very short turnaround to produce new works.”
Each work captures a variety of experiences, some quiet and reflective, and others more bombastic. While there was certainly a trend of depicting Donald Trump rodent-like and grotesque, others went for a subtler approach. The painting “A Dangerous Table” by Nichols was a favorite, blending tranquil, swirling colors with a darker, more sinister message. In a pose reminiscent of “The Last Supper”, the likenesses of Trump’s closest confidantes are seated around a table. Some are dressed in the white cloaks of KKK attire while others seated more centrally give off the Nazi salute. Perhaps most strikingly, the man with the orange hair is not seated at the table, but is placed off to the side, tripping over his own feet.
These works are meant to incite a dialogue, and Nichols puts it most eloquently: “The works in this show were created by artists who, in many cases, are in the cross-hairs of the new administration because of our queerness, color, gender, country of origin or religious affiliation. One non-violent response in these times of national crisis may be to invite dialogue with the huge number of North Americans who celebrate the direction our elected leaders seem to be taking the country.” Professor Nichols emphasized the importance of this form of protest, stating: “The urgent work for citizens of conscience right now is to imagine ways to build alliances that counter the initiatives coming out of Washington. This movement will benefit from the support of artists and writers and those of us who make their work possible. We need to fill public spaces, newspapers and classrooms with the language and vision required to sustain a just and unbreakable union.” It is clear that in times like these, filling every space with protest and dissent is the path to change, or at the very least the inhibition of the disastrous policies of our current government. While the exhibition “The World After January 20, 2017” does not give answers to every problem facing our nation at this very moment, through a variety of perspectives it offers the idea that unity does not mean disregarding the plights of individuals but embracing us all, that through mutual understanding of our unique struggles we might have a chance at progress.